From Houston to Sydney 2013

West Africa



The times and connections for my flights back to Australia have been far worse than I would ever normally try to arrange.  The reason is simple – the cancellation in late December of my ASKY flight from Banjul to Accra (the ‘rescheduling’ described in Day 1 of this travel diary).

I left my hotel in Gambia at 1:30 am on Saturday morning 1st February, and my arrival in Sydney was scheduled for 10:15 pm on Tuesday 4th February.  West Africa is quite a distance from Australia, but my forced rescheduling makes it seem much further than it really is.

Consider the schedule of my flights and stopovers:

Fly Banjul (Gambia) to Casablanca (Morocco) on Royal Air Maroc (3 hours 20 minutes)

Transit in Casablanca Airport (6 hours 35 minutes)

Fly Casablanca to Cairo (Egypt) on EgyptAir (4 hours 50 minutes)

Transit in Cairo Airport (5 hours 50 minutes)

Fly Cairo to Accra (Ghana) on EgyptAir (6 hours 30 minutes)

Stay in a transit hotel in Accra (15 hours 10 minutes)

Fly Accra to Johannesburg (South Africa) on South African Airlines (5 hours 55 minutes)

Stay in a transit hotel in Johannesburg (14 hours 55 minutes)

Fly Johannesburg to Perth (Australia) on South African Airlines (9 hours 35 minutes)

Transit in Perth Airport (2 hours 55 minutes)

Fly Perth to Sydney on Virgin Australia (4 hours 15 minutes)

And that is how a journey from Gambia to Australia can take 79 hours.

Yes, it’s a crazy schedule, and it highlights the consequences of doing something silly like assuming an airline based in Togo might adhere to its schedule and honour its booking. 

Having said all that, the long journey was actually fine; I think a positive mindset helped, as did having the opportunity to break the trip twice and get some sleep in real beds in transit hotels.  Unfortunately there are very few photos to illustrate the return trip, because most of my flights fell into one or more of three categories: (1) night flights, (2) take-off and landings at airports where there was heavy rain, or (3) flights over oceans, or clouds, or both.

I think the worst experience was arriving at Casablanca Airport at 7:00 am on Saturday morning and having to wait for five hours in an unexpectedly cold, breezy, damp, dark waiting area to get my boarding pass for the next flight.  It was not the fault of the staff and the transfer desk; for reasons unknown to me, EgyptAir had decided not to allow any boarding passes to be issued until two hours prior to take-off.  Fortunately, I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt (for the first time on the entire trip!), but with no other warm clothes to withstand the cold, I was well and truly shivering for most of the time I had to wait.

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, all six flights on the return trip arrived at their destinations early, and in five out of six cases, also took off earlier than scheduled.  Perhaps equally surprisingly, my luggage always arrived with me.  It is rare for me to have a long trip such as this where nothing goes wrong with luggage, although intriguingly, I have always had more reliable luggage handling in so-called Third World airports where bags are handled manually (if sometimes roughly), even when the baggage tags may have been hand-written.

The experiences of the long trip ended as I pulled into the terminal at Sydney Airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 10:00 pm on Tuesday 4th February.

The experiences may have ended, but the spectacular memories will surely endure for a long, long while.

West Africa is a fabulous destination; one that is ignored or under-rated by far too many travellers.


Saturday to Tuesday

1 to 4 February 2014

Days 36-39- The trip home